HALIFAX -- As we mark National Nursing Week, it gives us a chance to celebrate the crucial role of these health care providers.

COVID-19 has been tough on a lot of us – businesses, patients, but also medical professionals. Nurses, especially, are exhausted.

Imagine going to work every day knowing you might come in contact with COVID-19. Despite wearing personal protective equipment, you’re fearful you may bring the virus home.

Then imagine doing that for more than a year.

"People are going to work and risking their health to look after people in hospital, in long-term care facilities and in the community," says Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union.

Thousands of nurses are facing these challenges and more, in what has felt like a tiring and never-ending shift.

Days have been long. Patients have been very sick, and at times, without family.

"We have to be their family. We have to be their technicians. We’ve had to be their friend, their sons and daughters," says Hazelton. 

When COVID-19 came to Canada, it brought fear. But also, courage.

Nurse Ann Mann came out of retirement to work at Northwood, and then at test sites.

"I think the most important thing was the need. I felt I was needed. And I felt very strongly I had something to offer," says Mann.

Laura Berkvens has worked in the ICU, but is now administering vaccines. She vaccinated her mom who is also a nurse.

"It was probably one of the best moments of my nursing career and the timing just worked out right because I was starting my orientation to the clinic that day," says Berkvens, a public health nurse.

"It was just an exceptionally great day and it was a really proud mother moment," says Cathy Berkvens.

In Georgette Decoste’s 52 years as a nurse, she’s seen a lot of challenges.

While the long-term care home where she works didn’t see any outbreaks, taking care of patients took on extra duties this year.

"Some of the residents found it very difficult not to have family in, so it was a challenge for them as well," Decoste says.

"I would say we’re COVIDed out," says Hazelton. "We’ve had enough."

The hope is more people will be vaccinated soon, and perhaps, their shifts and duties will return to a new normal.

The nurses union says there is still a need to see more nurses added to long-term care.

Last year they had 67 new nurses added to the system and Hazelton thinks we’ll need about 500 more nurses added each year, for several years.